As they celebrate 100 years in Western New York, members of the area's Greek Orthodox community also are undertaking a new initiative to ensure their beloved church will be around at least 100 more years.
The Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation is moving ahead with plans to build a Family Life Center on 30 acres of church property in Lancaster.
The church invited Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis, archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, to visit the site on Genesee Street on Friday and bless the land, as part of a three-day centennial celebration that also included a gala at Statler City on Saturday and a special liturgy featuring 13 clergy members today.
The new building doesn't mean the congregation will leave its longtime location at West Utica Street and Delaware Avenue, which many Western New Yorkers know as the home of the annual Greek Festival.
"This is a second site for us," said the Rev. Christos B. Christakis, presiding priest of the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. "Eventually, this will become another location for us, but in many phases."
The congregation, which has a membership of about 800 families, envisions using the new center for social, recreational and education activities during the week while maintaining the landmark church in Buffalo for worship on weekends.
Work on the foundation of the $3 million parish center is likely to begin within a few weeks or months and be completed by 2015. Other developments likely will follow, including a chapel and classrooms, said Christakis.
The first Greeks arrived in Buffalo in 1871, according to church historical records. In 1912, the area's first Greek Orthodox Church opened at 361 Oak St. in downtown Buffalo.
The current home of the Hellenic Orthodox church was purchased in 1952 from North Presbyterian Church, a congregation now located in Amherst.
Throughout its history, the congregation has played a prominent role in the Orthodox Church in the United States. In 1943, church members were a driving force behind efforts to have state governments and the U.S. Department of Defense recognize Eastern Orthodoxy as a religion separate and distinct from Catholicism. The same year, the church hosted the first Pan-Orthodox Liturgy, bringing multiple Orthodox groups together inside Kleinhans Music Hall.
The congregation has endured its share of tragedy, as well. The Rev. George Pantelis, the church's much-admired priest, was murdered in 1979 during a robbery inside the church office.
And in 2001, a devastating fire, set by a teenage parishioner, caused more than $2 million in damages and nearly destroyed the landmark Gothic revival church. The refurbished building was opened again in 2002.
The Greek Orthodox community grew closer as a result of the tragedies, said Christakis.
"I have just been awestruck by the amount of history and what this community went through," added Mary Danakas, chairwoman of the church's centennial committee.